sixtyandme logo
We are community supported and may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Driving: A Right or a Privilege in Old Age?

By Ann Richardson February 20, 2024 Lifestyle

From time to time, there is an item in the news concerning old people and driving. One of my favourites concerned the late Duke of Edinburgh who had a car accident when he was in his late 90s. The car he was driving had ended up on its side – and it was reported that he was a bit “shaken up.” As one would be, even if you were much younger.

It started some conversations about old people and driving.

Old People and Cars

This is a serious issue – and one which affects a lot of us these days.

In my case, it was my father. I lived an ocean away from my parents and kept in touch by telephone but went to visit a couple of times a year or more. My dad would always meet me at the airport – driving, of course.

At some point, when he was in his mid-80s and his eyesight was failing, I began to worry for his safety. And that of other people, including myself.

He had always been an excellent driver and never travelled far. Mostly, he drove around his quiet suburban neighbourhood. He lived in a retirement community and often ferried other residents around the area for shopping or other outings.

Not surprisingly, he loved the sense of freedom that owning and driving a car brought.

So, understandably, it was a hard subject to broach.

“Don’t bother to meet me at the airport,” I said breezily a few days before I was due to travel. But he wasn’t fooled.

“You’re worried about my driving,” he replied, “but really, I’m just fine.” I asked him to get his friend, who was a lot younger, to drive him to the airport. Which he did.

Later, I raised the subject again. I stressed that I was worried because of his eyes: there might be a small child in front of the car. Without missing a beat but with a slight smile, he answered, “But there probably won’t be.”

He knew he was beaten and knew that he shouldn’t be driving. But he had loved his car for as long as I could remember – indeed, from before I was born. And now, in his old age, it gave him independence, and he liked the fact that it allowed him to be helpful to others.

Not driving to old people is not only about the car. It is also a symbol of decline and loss of faculties. It tells you that you are on the way down.

My father did decide to stop. Perhaps he was relieved, but he never indicated any such emotion. And at dinner, a number of his friends, who had already been told of my audacity, thanked me. They had tried hints, they had tried reason, but he wouldn’t listen. But they were pleased he listened to me.

A Global Problem

Soon after this happened, I spoke to a friend in Germany who’d had the same problem with her father. Another friend in the UK had it with her mother.

I realised that this was a problem all over the world – how to tell an otherwise independent parent that they should stop driving. You are embarrassed, they are defensive – and it is altogether difficult for everyone.

I wonder how many people as they grow into their 60s and beyond face this issue – with their very elderly parents or with a spouse or, indeed, with themselves.

We love our cars, we love the freedom driving brings, and it can be a real question whether our minor frailties have grown too large for us to cope.

You do need to keep an eye out for yourself and for those around you. You don’t want it to be you ­– or those you love – to be in the newspaper for this reason.

Flowers for Forgiveness

But let me tell you the end of my story. Immediately after that trip from the airport when my dad was not driving for the first time, I found a bowl of flowers on the table in my room.

This was not at all usual and I was taken aback. With them, he had left a note: “With love and forgiveness.” I asked him, of course, what he was forgiving me for. “For telling me not to drive,” he said.

We all do things in our own way. He was a constant surprise.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you think driving is a right or a privilege? Have you had to deal with an elderly relative who needed to stop driving? What techniques worked for you? Do you worry yet about your own driving? Please share your thoughts and concerns below.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Linda Gorchels

I applaud Maria’s courage. I don’t know how I will handle the decision to quit driving when that time will inevitably come, because I can’t imagine giving up my freedom. Some people may say that bad drivers are both young and old (true). Or that the state should determine when to take away a license (which they will AFTER an accident has happened). And, of course, each case should be examined on its individual merits. But I encourage people to be honest about the signs of decline in a driver’s ability and take action before it’s too late.

Maria Murad

I have voluntarily stopped driving. Yes, I miss the freedom of taking my keys and going. “See you later.” But this past year I had two episodes of sudden fainting (with no warning) and that was it. I don’t want to kill a person or pet because of pride. It’s hard on my girls, I think, because we need to coordinate schedules so I can get to appointments, church, etc. But they are supporting me on this and cheerfully chauffeur me where I need to go. No worries for any of us!


My mother-in-law is turning 90 in another 2 months. She is independent and continues to drive. She had a minor accident a couple of months ago and she has small dents from hitting poles in parking lots, etc. She seems to be getting more confused as time goes on. She does recognize her limitations and only drives the same route to stores as that’s her opportunity to get out and about. She doesn’t drive at night nor does she drive outside of her regular route. I still do worry about whether she would have the faculties to avoid an emergency situation that arose, such as a child running out onto the street. She knows the time is coming for her to give up driving but she is not agreeable to it right now, despite any number of discussions we have had with her. Not sure what we can do at this stage to get her to agree to stop. And the Ministry of Transportation’s assessment of those over 80 is so ineffective and they are very much under-resourced. Any feedback would be most welcome!

Shirley Jordan

Offering a ride to the store, and/or perhaps just taking this lady out for an occasioanal drive may make her more willing to give up driving. And, it may not hurt to have a converstation with her doctor. That said, where I volunteer a 97 year old retired engineer drives himself to thet thrft store where he repairs and checks all our electrical appliances. He’s in excellent physical and mental shape, far better than many much younger me. Everyone is an individual, though we must all come to the realization that at some point it is best to decide when to stop driving before we are forced to, if that makes sense.

Joan Terrell

Our family concluded that we did not issue the driver’s license. So if the state that issued the driver’s license wants to cancel it, that is up to them and is up to their determination and assessment of ability.


There are many people on the road that shouldn’t be driving! Young and old. I hate the age discrimination. It’s a case by case basis.

Sandra Pfister

I have to agree with you. Some people are mentally and physically sharp as a tack well into their late 80s. If that is you, why should you have to stop driving just because of a number. OTOH, if you have macular degeneration or something and it is causing severe vision issues, you definitely need to look at alternative transportation. Unfortunately, for those people living in small towns or rural areas – there is extremely limited alternative transportation.

Shirley Jordan

You are correct about age discrimination. Last time I had to renew my license, I was told I needed a more recent eye exam. At the appointment, the optician, said he was angry, because my vision, though I wear glasses had not changed. He said it was obvious they were just trying to deter older people from driving.

The Author

Ann Richardson’s most popular book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, offers a series of reflections on growing older. Subscribe to her free Substack newsletter, where she writes fortnightly on any subject that captures her imagination. Ann lives in London, England with her husband of sixty years. Please visit her website for information on all her books:

You Might Also Like